Barrios send poll warning to Chavez
THE last time he ran for re-election, president Hugo Chavez won comfortably in Petare, one of Latin America’s biggest slums, with nearly half a million people.
This time around, as Venezuelans vote today, he may not.
Challenger Henrique Capriles – known as “El Flaco,” or “Skinny” – has built a large following in what was once clear Chavez territory across Venezuela. The fervent support for the president among the working poor he has graced with state largesse has eroded.
The barrio is run by a council of Chavez loyalists who provide care for the handicapped, register the elderly for pensions and parcel out government aid, from free food for the needy to subsidies for home improvements.
However, such services, delivered through what the government calls “missions,” long ago stopped translating into solid allegiance for Chavez, who is seeking a third six-year-term.
The neighbourhood is divided, owing in some degree to mismanagement by pro-Chavez mayors and governors who were voted out of office in 2008 and 2010, respectively.
The replacement governor was Capriles, who tried to create parallel organisations to rival the Chavista councils but failed because the central government controlled far more funds.
Venezuelans, whose oil-export driven economy produces little else, have become more dependent than ever under Chavez on state handouts, and Capriles has expressed no intention of weaning them from government aid.
He has painted himself a centre-leftist, promising to keep the missions and not to thin public payrolls. Capriles is, however, solidly backed by Venezuela’s Right and that has stoked fears of a huge purge of Chavez loyalists if he wins.
Opinion polls have varied widely and are largely considered unreliable, so intuition is getting a workout.
“There are so many Chavistas, so many people who live in this barrio ... who are public employees and have been obliged to attend government rallies,” said one resident. “But when it comes to the moment of truth [they] are not going to vote for Chavez.”
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